In every industry, change is inevitable and trucking is no exception. International manufacturing and the increasing expectation among U.S. consumers for next-day shipping and omnichannel availability are providing the trucking and freight industry with plenty of challenges. Add to that new and updated requirements for crossdocking, pallet rebuilding and staging freight so it can be shipped in different quantities and it’s easy to see that transportation planning is entering a whole new dimension.
In fact, it seems increasingly common that moving freight is never about simply getting from point A to point B. More than ever before, there is a little space that gets in the way. Meaning, shipments sometimes need a place to sit in the middle of transit. Often when projects are outside of the normal flow of freight, such as seasonal goods or product promotions, coordinating the transportation with warehousing requirements can be extremely challenging.
These situations are well known to us in the industry. Experienced logistics managers plan for these situations and have solutions in place to accommodate the business. But the one thing we can all count on is—stuff happens. From new requirements to last minute changes—that’s when plans get tossed and things can get chaotic.
There are solutions to these problems. They range from manual and time-intensive to automated and technology-enabled. Sometimes it’s just easier to pick up the phone and get a job done. Other times, the situation is more complex and requires a bit more forethought. Here are the three approaches we see most often.
Option A: Existing assets
Logistics firms will first look to existing, owned warehouse properties to solve short-term storage issues that arise. This is a simple and obvious approach, but it comes with challenges. What if those warehouses are full or don’t have enough space? What if you simply don’t have them where you need them? If you build warehouses for these peak and temporary needs, how do you justify the costs when they sit empty? There’s no question using your own assets is the easiest solution but sometimes warehouse space just isn’t available or it acts as a drag on your profit and loss accounting during periods when it isn’t fully utilized.
Option B: Phone calls
Many of us have deep relationships in this industry. It is the rare, or very new, logistics manager that doesn’t have a connection somewhere where they can find a bit of space. But what if you need multiple locations to hold inventory going to multiple destinations? What if that happens more than a couple times per year? The number of phone calls adds up and so does the time. Manually calling to secure space certainly can get the job done, but it is a serious time-killer.
Option C: On-demand warehousing
This is the latest approach and fits under the growing category of collaborative logistics. Here technology connects networks of warehouses that do have space available to businesses that perhaps don’t have space and need it for short periods of time. Much like Uber connects people needing a ride to people with cars available to provide that ride, on-demand warehousing provides a similar connection. It’s efficient, but make sure you get the process, reporting and insurance options you need to feel comfortable taking this route.
This approach is not new for trucking. Load consolidation, as a practice, has been around since the 1970s. It was a simple way to make the most of unused space. As logistics have increased in complexity over the past 40 years, both the demands for efficiency, and the options, have grown. Logistics experts can take what they have honed in the practice of load consolidation and apply that to the thorny problem of needing short-term space.
Logistics experts in shipping and trucking want to focus on their core value of moving goods from place to place. Storing them, even for — and especially for — a day to a few weeks is not where they want to spend their time. And yet, it is intrinsically part of the business.
Proactively thinking about the balance of existing assets, personal relationships and technology solutions before those situations jump up to surprise us is the best way to have contingency plans in place that keep things moving smoothly. Each solution is the best choice for certain situations and technology can play a key role, much like your national relationships. It can help you determine the best utilization of your existing assets or database of your external contacts for more efficient outreach. Taking advantage of new cloud-based technologies can automatically connect you to warehouse space and other collaborative logistics providers.
Preparing the right solution for your common cross docking, pallet rebuilding and staging scenarios will save you time and headache as well as enable you to provide better service to your clients. And it will make sure space never gets in the way of a good ride.